Students at Red Bank Charter School took to the streets last Monday, January 16, carrying signs while marching through the community to mark the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. The exercise was part of a series of events held at the school on Martin Luther King Day, to teach students about the legacy of the slain civil rights leader.
The day began with teachers in every classroom handing out bagels to students, an exercise designed to create fellowship among students. Students also created a CNN-like news program in which they produced segments about the Dr. King, the Taliban, the Dakota Access Pipeline and the controversy over their own school.
“With a school as diverse as ours, the legacy of Dr. King has tremendous significance to our students,” said Charter School Principal Meredith Pennotti, explaining that the school opted to remain open on MLK Day to allow students to engage in a day of celebration and reflection. “Celebrating the life of Dr. King as we did on Monday fits into our mission. It’s what sets us apart from other schools in the area.”
Red Bank Charter School is among the most diverse and racially and ethnically integrated schools in the state with a student body that is 43 percent white, 43 percent Hispanic and 12 percent African-American. The school’s curriculum includes a service-learning component in which students have the opportunity to complete activities in the community.
In their self-produced news program, the students sought to correct the comments of Red Bank residents who have called the school segregated, and who have called for it to be shut down.
“The students decided to take this issue on themselves,” Pennotti said. “It’s an issue that has clearly made an impact on them.”
Students in the middle school grades also went to see the new movie “Hidden Figures,” a true story that celebrates the overlooked contributions of three African-American women working at NASA who played a crucial role in putting Americans into space.
The day ended with a silent march through Red Bank, with students carrying signs they made expressing their hope for the kind of future envisioned by Dr. King. One poignant message on a sign read: “Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?”
“It teaches kids that even though you might draw attention to yourself, that’s okay if it’s for the right reasons,” said eight grader Maya Williams. “We were marching for something that is still a real issue. It’s good to teach kids that it is an issue.”
“It’s really important to know that everyone is equal no matter what their differences,” added seventh grader Ruby Smollen. “The march really represents us being able to celebrate our differences. We are different in our own ways and we should respect each other for that.”